United States GP Paddock Notebook – Saturday

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AUSTIN – Qualifying for the United States Grand Prix in Austin today produced something of a surprise result. This may seem odd given that pole position was claimed by the driver with more than anyone else this season, but following Lewis Hamilton’s domination of practice in Austin, few would have expected Nico Rosberg to be the man on top in qualifying.

Alas, Rosberg was quicker when it mattered, producing a scintillating final lap in Q3 to bag his ninth pole position of the season at Hamilton’s expense. The Briton struggled with a brake problem, locking up even when he was backing off, which meant that he finished some three-tenths of a second adrift at the flag.

This is not the first time that Rosberg has performed a heist of this nature. In Canada, another of Hamilton’s favorite circuits, the German driver took pole after trailing in all of the practice sessions. He seems to have a knack for producing the goods when they matter.

That said, qualifying is not the be all and end all. No points are awarded on a Saturday, and with Hamilton hungry to take a huge stride towards a second world title, Rosberg will have his work cut out at COTA tomorrow.

Here’s the complete round-up from Austin on Saturday.

SESSION REPORTS

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

Boycott? What boycott?

Yes, what boycott indeed? Well, it appears that there was a possibility that three of the F1 teams – Sauber, Lotus and Force India – would boycott this weekend’s United States Grand Prix in protest of the current financial structure of the sport and the subsequent cost crisis. As carried by only a few outlets, all of the teams did moot the possibility, only to then blame each other and say that they would be racing after all. As per the interviews Bernie Ecclestone has conducted today, the show will go on in Austin.

However, the very fact that actual concrete talks are now being held about the financial structure of the sport suggests that some ground has been made up. As we have chronicled over the past few days, the cost crisis dogging F1 at the moment is very serious indeed. Although the boycott appears to have been avoided for now, the very real danger of F1 shooting itself in the foot persists.

Rosberg picks his moment

Pole position appeared to have Lewis Hamilton’s name written all over it following the third and final practice session in Austin on Saturday morning. Surely, after topping all three practices, he couldn’t lose out in qualifying?

Well, he did. Lewis may have had problems, but Rosberg produced a fine final flyer to secure pole number nine of the season. This means he is guaranteed at least a share of the FIA Pole Trophy – although it will mean nothing if he doesn’t win the world championship.

However, Rosberg has won just once this year when both drivers have started on the front row of the grid, and that was at Monaco where overtaking is notoriously difficult. He may have the advantage for now, but Lewis will have his knife between his teeth in the race tomorrow. The championship fight will continue to rumble on, all for our amusement.

Williams best of the rest yet again

Or should that be “Bottas best of the rest yet again”? This is the sixth time in the last eight races that Valtteri Bottas has qualified inside the top three as he continues to establish himself as one of the breakout stars of the 2014 Formula 1 season. He was three-tenths clear of teammate Felipe Massa at the end of Q3, but both Williams drivers should be set to scrap over the final podium position in Austin as Red Bull and Ferrari struggle to keep up.

In Red Bull’s case, having Sebastian Vettel start from the pit lane means that he will be hoping for any kind of points (that said, the reduced field should help him). Seb played it smart in qualifying, doing enough to get within the 107% time of Hamilton whilst completing just three laps, thus saving the life on his engine. We all remember his escapades in Abu Dhabi 2012, and although a repeat is hard to see happening, he should still be fighting well within the points on Sunday.

Sutil and Maldonado come good

After struggling all year long, both Adrian Sutil and Pastor Maldonado finally got their acts together during qualifying at Austin. They will line up ninth and 10th on the grid respectively, marking a season best for both drivers.

Quite whether this form will translate into the race on Sunday remains to be seen, but after a difficult season, few would begrudge them some points. For Sutil, it would be the best possible time to score them, given that he has just one seat left to fight for at Sauber following Marcus Ericsson’s announcement.

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That’s all from the paddock today, but be sure to join us tomorrow for all of the news and analysis on the ground at COTA.

NBC/NBCSN SCHEDULE FROM UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX

Ben Hanley relieved to make Indy 500 debut

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Qualifying for the Indy 500 is never an easy task, especially for a new driver and team, and with 36 cars vying for 33 starting positions last weekend, 34-year-old rookie Ben Hanley knew there was a chance he and his DragonSpeed team would not make the show.

“I wouldn’t say we were very confident, but we wanted to [make the field],” Hanley told NBC Sports. “The biggest thing we were trying to achieve was to not be on track on Sunday in the shootout because it only takes one mistake or one little issue and that’s it, you’re not in the race.”

But Hanley would not have to worry about being bumped from the field. He qualified 27th after making three attempts on Day 1, which was enough to lock the No. 81 team into the show. Not too shabby for a driver and team making only their third NTT IndyCar Series start.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch, full daily schedules

“That last run everything just came together,” Hanley said. “We trimmed out a little bit more and found a good balance of trim and grip over four [qualifying] laps and it was enough to get us through.

“It was a huge relief to get through in P27. A massive achievement for everybody involved.”

Indeed it was a massive achievement, as DragonSpeed is one of the smallest teams in the garage, with no corporate sponsors and a tiny team of around 20 personnel. Many of those were picked up by the team just a week before qualifying, when members of the team’s regular crew were denied entry into the United States due to visa issues after leaving a sports car race in Italy.

“It was all down to the team organizing some people who were in and around Indianapolis who weren’t needed for the race weekend,” Hanley said. “Obviously, I don’t think many people are going to refuse the chance to work on a car that’s trying to qualify for the 500.”

Though the team made its first Indy 500 on Day 1 of qualifying, the DragonSpeed team did not spend Saturday night out late celebrating. Instead, Hanley said the extra time was spent preparing for the race.

“We went straight on to race prep then for the car, so Sunday was a good day for the guys to take time to prep the car into the race spec and get everything sorted out in a nice, organized manner.”

Following the Indy 500, DragonSpeed will run two other races this season at Road America and Mid-Ohio. The team is hopeful that a good run at Indy will result in an opportunity to run a bigger schedule next season and attract sponsors.

Hanley stated that though he’s happy to have made the Indy 500 starting grid for the first time in his career, the magnitude of his feat hasn’t hit him yet.

“It hasn’t really soaked in yet,” he said. “I think it will soak in on Sunday when we roll out to the grid.

“It was such a huge relief to not be involved in Bump Day. Even just watching [Bump Day] it was intense, especially with the weather. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be involved in that.”

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